Patrick Flood, Professor, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta
Pilot Project Grant: $44,101

Scientific title: A novel anti-inflammatory therapeutic approach to Parkinson’s disease

Inflammation is the body’s normal response to infection or injury, and when it takes place in the brain, it can not only destroy damaged cells, it should be able to regenerate them.

In Parkinson’s disease, immunologist Patrick Flood and his colleagues at the University of Alberta believe the inflammatory process has gone awry. Inflammation is a major contributor to the destruction of brain cells that produce dopamine, which is the critical chemical involved in initiating movement. But for reasons researchers don’t yet know, inflammation does not switch over to encourage new dopamine-producing cells to regenerate and grow.

“The speed at which you lose your dopamine-producing cells is really determined by the intensity of the inflammatory response,” says Flood. “The more intense the inflammation, the more quickly you lose those cells and degenerate.”

Flood is investigating anti-inflammatory products to not only stop the inflammatory process and the progression of Parkinson’s, but help inflammation switch to its regenerative role. So far, Flood and his colleagues have identified a small molecule that is effective, in animals, at stopping the inflammatory process and the death of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Now the team is testing a way to deliver that molecule to the specific area of the brain where this destruction causes Parkinson’s.

“It’s a drug-based therapy that uses targeted proteins to deliver the drug to the specific site of the inflammation,” says Flood.

In an animal model, using proteins to deliver the drug has reversed the motor symptoms those animals had developed after they were exposed to an environmental toxin that produced symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. Flood will also investigate whether this drug, which is soon to be tested in humans in preliminary clinical trials involving muscular dystrophy, can contribute to the regeneration of dopamine-producing neurons.

“If we can replace only 20 per cent of the destroyed neurons, that’s probably enough,” says Flood.
Flood, who studies chronic inflammation and its effects on many diseases, is particularly interested in Parkinson’s because of his experience with a close friend who has the illness.

“When you see it affecting your friends, it certainly motivates you to want to move this along and find a cure for it,” he says.